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Stupak: A Familiar Trade-off for Liberals


The horror of choice is a common theme of the commentary of the Stupak amendment from pro-choicers. Nancy Pelosi “shouldn’t have had to face” the choice between accepting the amendment and seeing health-care legislation fail, writes Judith Warner at the New York Times site. Marcia Greenberger of the National Women’s Law Center echoed the sentiment, as did Jeffrey Rosen at The New Republic.

I’m not sure who is supposed to be moved by the plight of liberals forced to choose between two of their causes. But it’s worth pointing out that liberals have faced this choice before.

The chief argument pro-choicers are making against the Stupak amendment is that as more people get their insurance through the new exchange the health-care legislation creates (or the public option it may create), and as fewer people get coverage through their employers, they will find themselves losing access to insurance coverage of abortion. The effect of health legislation including the Stupak amendment thus will not be neutral: The number of people with abortion coverage will drop over the years. (Of course, as critics of the overall legislation have pointed out, passing the bill without the amendment would not be neutral either: That course of action would cause the number of people with abortion coverage to rise.)

We have seen the same dynamic with Medicaid. In most states, it doesn’t cover most abortions, either. Yet liberals such as Henry Waxman have worked successfully for decades to expand eligibility for it. Some of the people who got coverage through the program must have lost abortion coverage in the process. Evidently liberals felt that the trade-off was worth it: I have never heard of any liberal opposing Medicaid expansions on this basis.

This bridge has already been crossed.